In my opinion, holiday meals would be best left to either the older generations, or those of us who maybe wish we had lived in an earlier time than now. I have a little bit of a vintage heart, if that makes sense, and probably idealize quite a bit about what things were like when my grandparents’ generation was younger. Our family’s older generation lives in Florida now, where I just visited, and I’m always reminded of how differently they do things.
I mean that in a good way; do you know my grandma and my great-aunt still have closets full of old glass dishware, cookware, and serving items with nary a scratch on them? And not “old” like “five years ago,” I mean old like “from their weddings, which were over sixty-five years ago.” We go through the same routine every time I visit: I ogle the dishes, they laugh at me for liking “all their silly old things” and I leave feeling a little less like ever buying anything from Target again. Why? Because the oldies did it right; they didn’t have much, but what they did have, they cared for, and here they are generations later washing and drying the same items that have been in their families for – in some cases – almost a century. Maybe more. Those things appear on every holiday table I share with them, filled with food they’ve been making for years. Our family can be time-warpy in that way; I’m fairly certain my grandma and her sister have been making exactly the same series of holiday dishes for decades, and we all devour them. I didn’t get to spend Easter with them this year – I headed back before that – so this was my way of honoring them and thanking them for keeping traditions alive.
Of all the savory dishes we made this past Easter, this one was my favorite. Creamed onions may not sound like the most exciting thing ever, but if you’re an onion lover as I am, you may feel differently. Onions add massive base flavor to so many savory dishes, but they shouldn’t be resigned to the background. I caramelize onions all the time to throw on sandwiches and burgers (they amp up veggie and turkey burgers wonderfully), to sit alongside plates of steamed vegetables for dinner, or just to eat on their own.
Despite my onion love, I’ve never made creamed onions before. I called them “old lady onions” because they sometimes seem like a forgotten dish nowadays; I blame the pickiness of the younger generations (mine and beyond) because sometimes we like to make fun of our grandma’s favorite dishes just for the sake of it (whippersnappers!) and because arguably, there’s nothing maybe about the look or the name of creamed onions that brings excitement to mind.
But the smell of them; it’s phenomenal. When you cook them, your house will smell like onion candy. And the flavor? You’re cooking down onions – the foundation for all deliciousness – by themselves with some spices, then nestling them into cream and cooking them some more. What do you think they taste like? Does that sound incredible to you? Oh, and also there’s toasted, chive-filled breadcrumbs on top if you’re not sold on this yet. As if there weren’t enough toasted onion flavor for you.
So here’s to the old ladies – most especially, my grandma and my great-aunt Dottie – who continue to make creamed onions despite their picky grandchildren (who should stop sassing the onions anyway; they obviously don’t know what’s good for them.) It’s because of those two that I even know creamed onions (and a few other choice food items) exist. It’s because of them that I know the value in caring for what you own, and that having a few good-quality things is so much better than owning disposable items you can change out every season. And, let’s be honest, it’s because of them that my mom, my sister, and I feel the need to “rescue” things from the shelves of seemingly every thrift store I walk in to. Our lives are lived, often times, as closely as possible to past generations when it comes to certain things. We have a great deal of respect for the oldies, because the oldies know how to do it right.
Hi, grandma. (She reads this; so, too, does my grandpa. It’s safe to say that before any of you manage to scoot you way over here for new posts, they’ve already read it and talked about it.)
Now, before you ask, this is not their recipe; they do one with pearl onions that I love quite a bit. This is my take on them; a tribute, if you will, to the creamed onions they make for holiday meals. My version uses big fat Vidalia onions, quartered, sauteed, and then baked casserole-style until they are so sweet and smothered in cream that you want to dive headfirst into them. Mine are holiday-friendly in that you can do the first part of things – the saute – they day before if you need to. Then the day of your brunch/lunch/dinner, simply bake them in the oven on the temperature you’re using for the rest of your dishes. I’ll give you the optimal temperature in the recipe, but if you’re cooking more sensitive things at a different temperature, adjust the timing as you see fit.
Adapted from this delightful slideshow on foodnetwork.com regarding Easter side dish ideas and recipes. I may have a vintage heart, but my brain appreciates being able to google “easter side dishes” and come up with these beautiful offerings. Go, technology! The carrots I made came from this slideshow, also.
for the creamy onions:
- 3 pounds Vidalia or other sweet yellow onion
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt (plus more for seasoning to taste
- 1/2 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
- 1/4 cup dry white wine
- 3/4 cup heavy cream
- 1/2 cup whole or 2% milk
- 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
for the crumb topping:
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 cup Panko (or regular finely ground) bread crumbs
- 3 tablespoons fresh chives
- sea salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste
If you do make these the day before, make it up to the part just before you mix together the bread crumbs. Store tightly covered in your refrigerator and get them out about an hour before you want to put them in the oven to get them back to room temperature. Check them before applying the bread crumb topping; onions will soak up the cream overnight, so you may want to add around a 1/4 cup of milk or heavy cream (your choice) and mix it in before you bake them.
Make the creamy onions:
Preheat oven to 350˚F.
Melt 4 tablespoons butter in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the onions, stirring them to coat in the butter, and cook for 10 minutes, covered with a loose piece of aluminum foil, stirring occasionally. Remove cover, stir in nutmeg, cayenne, salt, and pepper. Reduce heat to medium and cook another 5 minutes uncovered, stirring so all the spices are incorporated.
Add wine and simmer for 2-3 minutes. Remove the mixture to a large bowl (or the casserole dish you will be using; it’s just temporary) and set the pan back on the stove. Add the heavy cream, milk, and flour, whisking over medium heat until smooth and just thickened. Add the onion mixture back in to the pan, reduce heat to medium-low, and stir until onions are covered evenly in the cream mixture. Check for seasoning and add more as needed, then pour into the casserole dish.
This is where you stop if you’re making these the day before you need them. Let them sit out to cool to room temperature, cover tightly (important, unless you want everything in your fridge to smell of onions) and then place in the fridge until you need them. Hold off on making the crumb topping until you’re ready to get them into the oven.
Make the crumb topping:
Mix the bread crumbs, chives, salt, and pepper together until blended. Melt the butter and stir it in to the crumb mixture, using a fork or whisk to incorporate and break up the mixture a bit. Pour evenly over the onions and bake, covered loosely with a sheet of parchment paper, in the preheated 350˚F oven (which you remembered to turn on even if you made these the night before) for 30-40 minutes. Uncover and bake for 5 minutes more to brown the crumbs. Serve right away (as if you could help it.)
I suppose if you have normal people at your party, this serves maybe 8-10 as a side dish. If you have more than a few onion lovers – just warning you – it may serve less.